Art & Knowledge

To continue learning about the relationships between space and time through the imaginations of artists who conduct constant dialogues with architecture and history of human culture, I turn to look at works by Lore Bert.  Her exhibition inside the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana is reflective (not just on the surface) and encouraging self-reflection on more than one level.  Surrounding by frescos and marble statues of philosophers, prophets, astronomers, mathematicians and figures of mythology, Biblioteca Marciana is already an inspirational space for learning and quests of greater knowledge.  In addition, Lore Bert's installation provides an another kind of investigation on the meaning of life while take in consideration the correlation between space and time.  Her works are engaged in constant dialogues with the existing architecture and history of human culture.  When I first walked into the biblioteca, I was taken aback by the frescos painted on the ceilings.  There, all the imagery was telling me many tales at once, it was a little difficult at first to find my footing.  To be able to find one's footing and realize her position in relations with everything else in the surrounding is one way to learn about oneself.  At least in my case, from where I was standing I had to find a focal point in order to be able to orient myself further into the right direction.  Or to the direction into where I needed to go anyway. 

Before going in depth about Lore Bert's installation, a little bit historic background of the Biblioteca Marciana helps to lay a foundation.  The library came about as a result of valuable donations.  The first idea of founding a library was given in 1362 by Francesco Petrarca who considered to donate his collection of manuscripts to Venice.  In 1534 the procurators drew up plans to build new office premises with a library, reading rooms and lecture halls.  So it was that, in 1537, the architect Jacopo Sansovino was commissioned to design a library building on the Piazzetta (St. Mark's Square and named after patron saint of Venice).  After his death the building was completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi form 1582 to 1588.  Owing to its unique holdings of Greek manuscripts, the library became a center for humanist studies in the 16th century and has assumed the role of a national library since 17th century.  Today, It is one of the biggest libraries in Italy and carrying one of the leading collections of Greek, Latin, Oriental manuscripts and incunabula.  The library's specializing subjects are classical philology and Venetian history.  It also possesses a valuable collection of musical scores, atlases and geographical maps. *

Lore Bert, Art & Knowledge in the 5 Platonic Solids
Official collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, St. Mark's Square Venice
Image courtesy Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft

Lore Bert, Art & Knowledge in the 5 Platonic Solids
Official collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, St. Mark's Square Venice
Image courtesy Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft


Lore Bert has started her practice and study in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin with Hans Uhlman since 1953.  Under his inspiration, she started to explore space and implement her works in correlation to her exploration with the different possibilities in different spatial environments.  Since in the 1980s, she has created collages, relieves, experimented with transparencies in sculptures and installations.  In her works, she often utilizes papers from Japan and of other Eastern origins.  During the 1990s, she has created environments with neon letters, Oriental neon numbers and spheres.  There are more than 125 installations in Europe, Asia, Africa, Arabic countries and the US that she realized in public spaces.  The works she has produced are constructive consisting of geometric and architectural shapes while create direct dialogues and establish physical relationships within the given spaces.  What I appreciate the most about her work is that they prompt personal contemplations and reflections.  For their qualities based in mental and spiritual foundation, the works are in themselves departure points into quests of knowledge and understanding of oneself through learning and understanding of humanity, history and culture.

Lore Bert, Art & Knowledge in the 5 Platonic Solids
Official collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, St. Mark's Square Venice
Image courtesy Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft

Walking into the space, I was confronted with reflective surfaces of the five Platonic Solids that seemed to be floating in clouds of white paper.  With the creasing papers flooding the floors, it seemed to suggest movements and feelings of the polyhedra floating in sky amid fluffy clouds.  The Platonic solids are produced as Platonic Polyhedra- after the Greek philosopher Plato, and illustrates regular and convex polyhedra.  Their three-dimensional bodies are made up of plane surfaces and are congruent, regular with the same number of faces meeting at each vertex.  There are exactly five solids consisting tetrahedron, hexahedron, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron.  Each named according to the Greek words for the number of surfaces they have, which are 4, 6, 8, 12 or 20.  Plato wrote about them in his dialogue in which he associated each with classical elements, such as earth, air, water and fire.  Earth is associated with the hexahedron, air with the octahedron, water with the icosahedron, and fire with tetrahedron.  For the fifth Platonic Polyhedra, the dodecahedron, Plato have associated it with heavens and though Aristotle also postulated that the heavens were made of this element. *

Kant: The Transcendental Illusion, 2004
180 x 180 cm
Japanese paper with cotton
Image courtesy Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft

By making each of the surfaces reflective, the polyhedra are fully integrated within the interior space.  When looking at Bert's Platonic Solids one is inevitably also looking at the interior imagery and that by reflection the interior space is vicariously linked with one's physical presence in the space.  Similar to my experience with the previous works I talked about in La Biennale di Venezia, this constant dialogue and negotiation of one's interior space confronted or enriched by the exterior space was one the most enjoyable aspect of my visit.  

While in conversation with history and thinkers of the past, Bert's installation also exhibits another 11 works whose titles are in direct reference to those that inspired her to produce them.  For Kant: The Transcendental Illusion, 2004 (Kant: Vom transzendentalen, 2004), the text is inspired and taken from Transcendental Aesthetics by Immanuel Kant.  In which for his investigation of how are synthetic a priori judgments possible, Kant divided his first investigations into two main parts- Transcendental Aesthetics and Transcendental Logic.  For in Transcendental Aesthetics he stated his argument about space.  The argument goes roughly as something like this (and here I am taking only the ideas that seemed relevant to Bert's work): space is not something we learn about from experience and therefore not empirical.  Instead, it is required for there to be an experience of the outside world.  Space is a priori because we cannot represent ourselves in the absence of space.**  Also in this fact that geometry is possible to show our understanding of space as it exists in three-dimensional space. 

In Berti's work, the 5 Platonic Solids also lead to this idea of space as an experience that one must be present in it in order to arrive at its existence.  By making the surfaces of geometry reflective, the viewer's presence becomes one that is undeniable.  For Kant: The Transcendental Illusion, 2004, Bert presents the text here in a spiral and what looks to be an open-ended circle that seems to suggest the understanding of his argument is like a continuous and orbital congestion of linguistic representation.  Thoughts are but linguistic representations of things surrounding us, I have always wondered that all I can know to be sure of is my impressions and interpretations of matters in my existence.  Therefore reality escapes me, though at times I could try to get away from all impressions and interpretations but then everything seems too ambiguous and almost impossible.  Then again, since this personal contemplation derived from her work could go on for a long time from now, let us get back to Lore Bert's exhibition and see another work by her.  

Rilke: For all the Listening and Amazement, 2005
180 x 180 cm
Japanese paper with cotton and gold leaf
Image courtesy Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft


Poetry is another source of inspiration for Bert.  Rilke: For all the Listening and Amazement, 2005 (Rilke: Vor lauter Lauschen und, 2005) presents text from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke on Japanese paper.  Rilke was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist who lived during 19th century.  His works were written in both verse and lyrical prose, some have thought his works as mystical, invoking images of solitude and profound anxiety.  Figures of Greek mythology recur as one of the motifs in his works.  In this piece by Bert, the text is from one of his poems called Vor lauter Lauschen und Staunen sei still (it roughly translates to listening in sheer amazement and quietude, for this I can't seem to find a good English translation therefore I provide this imperfect translation of my own) composed in 1898.  The poem describes of solitude and the transcendental effects of nature; as one contemplates silently with the wind and among the rocking birches, while love descends and the soul departs with intoxication (once again, here my translation and interpretation is not perfect).  Bert uses the original verse in German, drawing a full circle with a few additions of leaves and rosettes.  These subtle placements are poetic and romantic in gesture.  The use of rosettes also seems symbolic of the rose motif often seen in Rilke's poems.  On his grave in Switzerland, it inscribes a poem about roses of which Rilke chose for himself.  In the short verse, it contrasts the purity of a rose with its thorny stem.  While the overall composition of the piece is a circular form against a geometric grid; this element echoed with the geometry of the interior space and with the floor tiles.  On the lower right-hand corner, Bert had signed this work with a red ink stamp and her name is translated into Japanese.  


Dante: Inferno2012
180 x 180 cm

Paper painting with Japanese paper, cotton and gold leaf
Image courtesy Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft

Inspired by Dante, Dante: Inferno, 2012 embodies text from Divine Comedy on Japanese paper with cotton and gold leaf.  Paying homage to the Italian language and Dante, Bert implemented the original text from Inferno in Italian.  The placing of the words fit exactly inside each square on the grid, Bert's work reads as if a word puzzle that seems the words could run vertical as well as horizontal.  About her reference and inspiration, Dante is one of the most important poet of the middle ages in Italy.  His Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian Language.  Inferno is one of the three parts in Divine Comedy, followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso.  The work describes Dante's journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.  It draws on medieval Christian theology and philosophy while also records of autobiographical stories of people and names that actually existed during the course of Dante's life.  

Going back to the idea of learning and personal contemplation, Bert also uses Eastern influences of meditation and spiritual worship in her works.  All 11 works are made using Japanese papers, usually hand-made with embedded irregular markings.  For some works, little pieces of papers have been folded into little shapes and then inserted according to a geometric grid and thus form a large relief.  This careful placements of hand-folded papers reminded me of the tradition of origami-making in Japanese culture.  For this exhibition, Bert is not only inspired by European culture but also Chinese culture.  Here is one more piece, it is a symbol for Chinese future that Berti made taking inspiration from other traditional Chinese symbols for luck and good fortune.  For this piece, the background is made up of many little hand-folded papers to provide ground for the prophecy of future.  Here the symbol is presented in a full circular form as to suggest harmony and inter-correlations of everything in the universe.   

Chinese Future2013
180 x 180 cm

relief-object with Japanese paper and gold leaf 
Image courtesy Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft

Lore Bert, Art & Knowledge in the 5 Platonic Solids
Official collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, St. Mark's Square Venice
Image courtesy Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft



*information taken from press release courtesy of Van der Koelen Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft
**ideas of Kant's first Critique: transcendental aesthetics, transcendental logic, and Ideas found via oswego.edu

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